Friday, 21 April 2017

Once Seen...

I'm all charity shopped out. No, seriously, during the last three weeks we've hit them in Swindon, Barry, Cowbridge, Llantwit Major, Wootton Bassett, Burford, Weston Village, Bath, Bath city centre, Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham and Devizes. If we've hit one we've hit at least twenty and probably considerably more.

I shouldn't complain. After all, one thing I quite fancied was finding a pair of blue jeans without paying for them over twelve months by DD (you know what I mean, eh?). I'd all but given up when, just last weekend we entered the British Heart Foundation store in Midsomer Norton High Street and, almost as an afterthought, having found zillions of pairs in any number of other stores but not having found a pair to my size or liking, I stumbled across a pair of Marks and Spencer Blue Harbour jeans that were brand new. They still had the cardboard thingie stapled to the back pocket with those little plastic wotsits and the M&S price label, still attached, showed that they were £19.50 new. I went to the till and told the lady "These are coming home with me" and she looked at me as if I'd spoken a foreign language. Some people just don't have a sense of humour do they.

Actually, she was OK in the end, she'd been preoccupied by the fact that the cash register was fighting back and thus she wasn't able to get it to open.

"Do you have the correct change by any chance?" She asked us, fraught. The prices was a princely £4.49 and the best we could do was garner together from both of our purses the sum of £3.99 in change. She told us that would do. I'm not in the habit of asking for discount in charity stores but, well, you know, what else could one do?

I was wearing these very same jeans just yesterday when we went with my brother-in-law to Calne and Devizes to get out of my sister's hair while she prepared a special anniversary dinner for us, since it was our anniversary yesterday, did I tell you? Can't tell you how many years though, the light of my life would have my guts for garters, since she's now younger than the number of years we've been married.

Calne is a delightful little Wiltshire town that many years ago was dominated by the Harris sausage factory. It used to employ over 2,000 people, but was demolished in the 1980's. The only thing that reminds the current visitor to Calne that it once subsisted on the meat from dead pigs is a rather curious bronze sculpture that can be found at the entrance to a not-very-attractive shopping precinct...

Oddly, the inscription (not visible here) makes no reference to the Harris factory.

Anyway, I digress. There is a charity shop in this precinct run by the Scope organisation, which specialises in helping those with disabilities to integrate into society. I rather admire their efforts.

In the Scope shop I stumbled upon a virtually new pair of Diadora sport shoes that were my size and simply too good to pass up. There was I, telling my wife and brother-in-law that I didn't want to see another charity shop for at least a year and yet, much against my will at the start, I went into this one. I tried the shoes on and that was it, had to have 'em. I took them to the till and the man there was having trouble with the cash register (sound familiar?). As he did what every self-respecting man would do in such circumstances, he called his female colleague to see if she could sort it out, we carried on a lighthearted conversation about trivia. Then he said something that made my ears perk up ike a piggy's.  He said:

"You know, you remind me of someone."

I get this all the time. Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore (in his younger days!) - in my dreams. 

"Really?" I asked, expectantly. "Who might that be then?"

"Well, a couple of years ago I was in Rhodes, Greece and we went on an excursion. You remind me of the guide on the coach." OK, so he (like every other guest I've ever had) doesn't know the difference between a guide and an escort, but this was strange indeed. Tempted to ask what he thought of the man in question, I resisted and asked where he'd been staying and what tour operator he'd travelled with. Lindos and Olympic Holidays were his replies. Bingo.

"That was me." I replied. There were never two more gobsmacked blokes staring at each other so incredulously in the history of synchronicity I can tell you. "I live in Rhodes, toward the South of the island and I pick up guests from Lindos every week." You may or may not believe this, but I'm not in the habit of telling everyone I interact with in the UK that I live abroad. It's not nice is it? But here was a circumstance that demanded that I own up. Imagine though, here he was volunteering in the local charity shop down the road from where he lives, and in walks this bloke who'd taken him on a day trip whilst on a foreign holiday a couple of years before.

After a little more chat during which we established irrefutably that I had indeed been his escort on the excursion, we shook hands and I exited the store, well pleased both with my purchase and the sheer odds against such a thing happening.

I often say when people say they remember me (when they actually do know it was me that is) "Once seen, never forgotten." Only because it's one of those trite little phrases that we all seem to know, of course.

Oh I dunno, maybe there's an element of truth in it after all.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Greek Expectations

Ekaterina Botziou is prolific, exuberant and essentially a woman of her Greek roots. Her life tends to leave me breathless just reading about it. Based in Wimbledon with her husband and two young sons, her writing is witty and absorbing and it's hard to keep up with all her projects. Apart from writing she also acts and keeps a blog and a website or two. Her "Greek Wives Club" site is described as a "one stop directory for all things Greek" and is tremendously absorbing. I count myself a member (in this PC non-sexist world) for being a 'Greek husband'!!

To check out her written works, here's the link to her Amazon Author Page.

Ekaterina is the latest to subject herself to my 15 questions so, without further ado, here we go...

1. Where do you live?
In the land of the Wombles - Wimbledon, UK

2. What do you write about?  

Mainly my life! My first book 'Greek Expectations: The Last Moussaka Standing' is essentially a memoir based on my own experiences growing up in a semi-Greek household, and later marrying into a Greek-Cypriot family. It provides a tongue-in-cheek insight into the trials and tribulations of being a modern woman faced with the demands of age-old Greek traditions and shows readers how to survive each stage of life with a Greek man and his family! My second book 'Theseus & the Mother-in-Law' is a parody of all the Greek myths and legends, (with a Greek mother-in-law thrown in for good measure) and I wrote my third completely UNGREEK book ‘Seraphina’ as an experimental short story in verse. 

3. Why Greece?
My father is Greek and we spent many summers there when I was a child. My husband is Greek Cypriot, so I’ve been provided with plenty of material over the years to fill a whole bookshelf with comical tales.

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
My first book took me the longest as I wrote it in stages and initially wasn’t sure whether it should be a story or more of a guide. I also had to wait for feedback from various friends and other authors before I was happy with the final draft. I remember starting it in January 2013 and sending a first draft and notes to the author Eve Makis who I then met in Cyprus that May. She gave me such positive feedback that when I got back to the UK I steamed ahead and within a month or so the book was finished. So all in all it took about 7 months.  

I started my second book in May 2014 and it was finished within 3 months. My short story in verse took me about a month. Usually once I get going on something, there’s no stopping me.

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
The escapism. I go into a bit of a trance when I write, so much so that a few times when people have asked me about passages in my books I’ve completely forgotten that I even wrote them!  

Ekaterina feels a trance coming on.

 6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?

Democracy. And souvlaki.

7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
I came up with the idea for my first book shortly before I got married. I had already set up my blog and was sharing stories about the horrors of preparing for a Big Fat Greek Wedding when I decided to do some research into self-help books that dealt with how to make a successful marriage. I couldn’t find any information on the topic of traditional Mediterranean relationships, so I decided to pick up my pen and write my own. I have since realised that when you are married to a Greek man, you need more than just a self-help book!

The idea for my second book came about when I was still writing my first. As a child I devoured all the Greek mythological stories and was fascinated by the historical aspect to many of the legends. My grandmother in particular had a deep interest in the mythicism of ancient Greece and I think many people find the combination of history and fictional narrative highly appealing.

After reaching the final shortlist for Australian literary journal Vines Leaves Press with a vignette entitled Stripped Bare, I wrote my third completely UNGREEK book ‘Seraphina’ as an experimental short story in verse. 

8. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
As my second book was based on the Greek myths I did a fair bit of research and planned the general structure so that all the stories would be in chronological order. My first book was a bit messier as I wasn’t sure which chapters to put where and I re-wrote a lot of the book in the later stages. As for my short story in verse, I literally just let the pen (or rather the keyboard) lead the way. I really think how you write a book depends on what the book is about. If I were to write something based on historical fact I would definitely plot and plan each section, but when it’s a memoir sometimes you just go with the flow and piece everything together at the end.

9. Which other authors do you read?
I have had the great pleasure of getting to know many of my favourite authors who write about Greece. I was a huge fan of Eve Makis’ work even before I met her and I am very excited that one of her novels ‘Land of the Golden Apple’ is now being made into a film. Sofka Zinovieff is another highly talented writer and I found her debut novel ‘The House on Paradise Street’ deeply moving. I also enjoyed all of Victoria Hislop’s books in particular ‘The Island’ which left me wanting to visit Spinalonga, which I finally did a few years ago!  

10. What's your preferred kind of music?
I have a very eclectic taste in music. I love soundtracks because they can combine every genre from classical to rock, and I also love anything with a good beat to it.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Greek music has been a huge part of my life since I was in the womb (!). My father is very into his bouzouki music but I prefer more contemporary artists such as Anna Vissi, Elli Kokkinou and Thanos Petrelis. Demis Roussos was a favourite in our household – he will be greatly missed.  

12. Favourite Greek dish?
Pork gyro. I could eat it every day.

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
I really couldn’t say. I love the islands but there is so much of Greece that I haven’t explored yet.

14. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
Ekaterina's Blog and Author Website:



The Greek Wives Club:

15. And finally, reading device or real book?

For a time I was absolutely set against reading devices. I love the smell and feel of a good book in my hand. However, to save on space and money I eventually bought myself a Kindle and I haven’t looked back.

There you go folks. I hope you'll go check out Ekaterina's work if you don't already know about her. I've got a fairly major male author lined next, so I hope you'll tune in for that one, coming up some time soon, but firstly I'll be getting back home to Rhodes imminently, so there'll be a couple of actual Rhodean ramblings first.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Ramblings from UK?

OK, so if you tuned in for another helping of life on Rhodes I am going to have to disappoint you with this post, but rather than wait until we get back home to Greece, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little piece from deepest Barry, in South Wales.

A North Wales reservoir, Saturday April 8th.

The beer garden at the Golden Fleece, Tremadog, a stone's throw from Portmeirion. Too hot with that rugby shirt on.

The beach at Barry Island. Yes, I did say Barry!
We talk about jetlag in terms of long haul flights don't we. I'll tell you what though, the two hour difference still messes you about when you fly back to the UK from Rhodes. At 8.30pm we've been feeling sleepy and all done in and yet at 5.30am the next morning we've been awake and ready to think about that first cup of tea. The trouble is, as you begin to adjust, which we are doing now after a week and a half over here, you realise that once you get home it's going to be tough getting up at the right time again. 

Our hosts here in Wales, good friends of almost 20 years, decided to take us on a mystery tour over the weekend and we ended up in Portmeirion, somewhere we'd never been and always wanted to visit. It was last September, when they came over to see us in Rhodes and were raving about a music festival they'd attended at the eccentric village built by Clough Williams-Ellis on the tidal estuary of the Afon Dwryd, when we'd told them how we'd always wanted to go there but had never actually made it, so they hatched the idea and off we went.

It was a wonderful weekend topped off with some really Mediterranean weather. The only thing was, last night we were well tired after a lot of travelling and so woke up at 9.20am this morning, which, of course, would be 11.20am in Rhodes, hence my concern over what time exactly we're going to wake up on the morning after our return home. Just as well we don't have to rush off anywhere for a couple of days when we get back to Rhodes, eh?

We usually visit the UK during the first few weeks of April and, barring one year (which was probably at least 5 or 6 years ago now) we always seem to have very good and mainly sunny weather. In fact, my sister and her hubby suggested when they collected us from Gatport Airwick on Wednesday March 29th in the drizzle that they'd hoped we'd brought the weather with us. The next morning it dawned sunny and, although we have seen some cloud, it's been lovely weather ever since. They reckon that we did indeed bottle a little Rhodean sunshine and pack it in our cases. Didn't like to tell them that just one week before we came we'd just ended 7 days straight of rain on Rhodes!

If you're bored enough to want to see some more evidence, head over to these photos on Facebook. Maybe these too (although all the while we were at Portmeirion it was mainly cloudy).

Anyway, time to get back to my first read-through of the new book. Some people are so impatient that they've been nagging me to get on with it.

They'll soon be sorry when they read it.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Surprise Surprise

We had occasion to pass through Faliraki last Sunday. With perfect weather and a little time on our hands, we decided to take a small detour. We went somewhere we've been once or twice before, but really not stayed long enough to investigate. If you know Rhodes at all then you'll know that there's a mile or two-long-strip of huge hotels heading north on the coast road from Faliraki to Kallithea Springs. Not long after you pass the springs you approach the Koskinou area, which is preceded by yet more huge hotels. It's not my favourite place I have to be honest. 

I know some will disagree (and Koskinou itself is an exception, of course), but I have the feeling that true Greco-philes will side with me when I say that I fail to understand why people want to visit an island in Greece and stay in such accommodation, by which I mean these huge homogeneous hotels that, once you get inside the front gate, could be anywhere on the planet.

The interesting thing is that, between the area I call 'hotel alley' and the headland north of Kallithea Springs there is this forested area, right on the coast that, once you get off the main road, gives you the impression that those huge altars to tourism could not possibly be in such close proximity.

Round the headland above 'hotel alley', where you can glance back along Faliraki Bay, and pretty soon the only landscape is forest, which glimpses of the sea. Pretty soon you reach this spot (pic courtesy of Google Maps, please don't sue!) - 

This is heading north, away from Faliraki
See that entrance on the right in the above photo? well take it!! You'll soon find yourself in a small driveway between mature pines and edged by a low (and ever so slightly alarming) stone wall. Secreted in this area are a couple of wonderful rock and sand bays, the first of which sports a really lovely taverna called Nikolas. Cue photos...

You can drive down a part-dirt lane toward the taverna, then walk down this path to arrive at a true beauty spot.

Taverna Nikolas terrace.


It's easy to spot the sign directing you down the lane to the taverna.
We didn't have long, so I just snapped the photos and we made a mental note to be sure and go there to eat at the earliest opportunity. Don't know about you, but this taverna has everything I look for when eating a lazy lunch (or evening meal in high summer) on a Greek island. That link above is to the TripAdvisor page for this taverna and the reviews by and large are extremely encouraging. If this helps (again courtesy of Google Maps) here's the general area...

See that small headland at the bottom of the image, the taverna is nestled in that bay above it.

On an entirely different subject, we had some Greek friends over for dinner recently and they turned up with a couple of bottles. Things are improving. Traditionally if you invite Greeks they'll turn up with a box of diabetes-inducing cakes in one of those admittedly attractive boxes that the cake shops pack them in. They cost a small fortune anyway, but most of our friends these days know that we don't 'do' sickly cakes and stuff. OK, I might make the exception when it comes to bougatsa.

Anyway, these bottles; well one of them we knew, the other was this one...

If you like real wine - and by that I mean not the medium sweet supermarket stuff that seems to be ubiquitous these days - no, I mean a full-bodied dry red that goes perfectly with some crackers and cheese, well look out for this one.

It's a true local wine from Embona, the village which is the wine capital of the island of Rhodes and it's very - and I mean very - nice. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't buy a decent local wine in Rhodes. In fact there are loads, but this one was a surprise to me and a very pleasant one at that.

So, there you are, two surprises in one week. I need a lie down, maybe with a glass of wine...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Life on a Greek Island ...or Two.

Jennifer Barclay is surely to be envied by many Grecophiles, since she's lived not only on one Greek island, but is now on her second. Like so many of us, she came here once and it got into her blood. Once that happens you're trapped. There's no way out. 

Jen has been running a hugely popular blog about her life first on Tilos, now Karpathos, plus various other far-flung parts of the globe, for a number of years. It's called "An Octopus in My Ouzo" which, incidentally, is also the title of her second book of Greek memoirs. Her first, "Falling in Honey" received a very warm welcome and no less than 94 of the 115 reviews on its Amazon UK page give it four or five stars.

Jennifer Barclay at a book signing in London recently.

So, in view of the foregoing, it's only to be expected that she'd turn up in my occasional list of authors who've been subjected to my fifteen questions. Interview number eight then is with Jen and I'm quite sure that all you Grecophiles out there who are hungry to read anything with a Greek connection will thoroughly enjoy her answers, not to mention her photographs.

Here goes then...

1. Where do you live?
With my partner and dog, a few minutes’ walk from the sea in a valley of olive trees known as Ayios Minas. We’re about 12km from Olympos in the north of Karpathos, one of the Dodecanese in the South Aegean, between Rhodes and Crete. For five years I lived on the island of Tilos, and from my village of Megalo Horio I could sometimes see Karpathos on the horizon, but had no particular interest in going there. Then I decided to visit Olympos for research, and never really left. Except to go back for the dog.

Lisa, the dog Jennifer went back for.

Olympos village, Karpathos.

2. What do you write about?
My first book, Meeting Mr Kim, was about three months I spent travelling around South Korea. Since 2011, when I moved to Greece, I’ve published two books set here: Falling in Honey, about my bumpy journey to life on Tilos, and An Octopus in my Ouzo, covering my first three years living on that tiny, beautiful island all year round, and my observations of how life works on an island with a population of about 500. 

3. Why Greece?
Life here is intense, colourful, beautiful and interesting – asking to be written about. 

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
Years. I don’t write full time as I also work as an editor and agent from my home office, and usually do something else to involve me in the community – now my partner and I work together at our taverna and rooms. And a lot of time goes into promoting my work, ensuring people hear about the books so I can keep on publishing them. So I must block off time to write. Then it usually takes quite a few drafts to shape my thoughts properly (I’ve had to rewrite my answers to this interview several times! [I am a man of infinite patience! - JM]). And I always need an editor to get rid of the lazy writing. However, every book is different, so maybe the new one won’t take as long… 

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Two things: the moment when you capture something beautiful in words, or quietly convey a message about something that seems important in life; and when you receive messages from readers saying they loved something you wrote.

6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Escape. Escape from the mundanity of modern life, to a place where you can wander without modern boundaries, where if you meet people you will be made welcome, and all you need is time.

Escape? Know what Jen means... April on Eristos Beach, Tilos

Also Tilos.
Jen (plus Lisa the dog) with some new neighbours on Karpathos.
7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
My first two books were based on journeys of different kinds. An Octopus in my Ouzo was different, more of a meditation on the idea of how islands and people have to break our boundaries to evolve. And a reaction to the idea some people have that life on a tiny island must be boring. 

8. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
Once I start writing, I get completely immersed in it, and I find research quite fascinating. With An Octopus in my Ouzo, I wanted to quote a line from a poem that popped into my head one day as I was walking to Plaka beach, a poem I learned when I lived in Toronto. I started looking into the poet’s life, and it turned out that although she was Canadian, she’d been married to a Greek and spent some of the happiest days of her short life on a tiny Greek island.  

9. Which other authors do you read?
I read mainly literary fiction and inspiring or funny memoirs (by non-celebrities), and rarely read more than one book by the same author because I have to be quite widely read, working with books. Living somewhere remote gives a nice serendipity to what I read – I may pick up something someone leaves behind, a book I might not have bought, and am pleasantly surprised or at least learn something. At the moment I’m enjoying The Crocodile by Maurizio di Giovanni, because my client Yianni Xiros recommended it.

10. What's your preferred kind of music? 
Anything I can dance to – popular music with rhythm and beat. I’m more physical than cerebral. I’m indifferent to classical music and jazz.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Yes – rembetika, old folk and pop songs, contemporary pop songs, the traditional music for festivals on the islands… Here in north Karpathos the men still play a weird kind of goatskin bagpipe called a tsambouna. But equally some of the romantic pop: I still melt a bit when I hear the opening notes of ‘An Eisai ena Asteri…’ [Beautiful song by Greek singer Nikos Vertis. - JM]

12. Favourite Greek dish?
Impossible to have a favourite. I love all kinds of food (with a few notable exceptions, e.g. snails), and love writing about food (cooking snails was great material for the book!). I actually provided the text for a book called A Literary Feast, which was a real pleasure to do – picking the great descriptions of meals from some literary classics, and creating recipes for them.  

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
The place I live. I grew up in a village in the Pennines in the north of England, so I feel most at home surrounded by hills and nature; and I love to hear the waves. 

Agios Minas Karpathos. Favourite place question? A no-brainer really!

14. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
Best place to start is:
That has a contact form, so please feel free to make contact. 
My books are available online via Amazon and Book Depository
I’m very happy to be friends on Facebook.

Jen Barclay's latest Greek offering

15. And finally, reading device or real book?

Because I work with books, people are always sending me things to read on my computer, but I prefer a paperback for pleasure reading.

There you go folks. Jen's life is so full she gives me a headache. Ah, but then, she's a mite younger than me. Hope you enjoyed her answers and photos as much as I did. There's another in the pipeline, this time with a male author, but judging by the time he's taking to come back to me, I reckon he's re-writing his answers several times too, like Jen did!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


My wife has always had a pre-disposition towards hay fever, without ever having had a full-blown bout of it. This past week she's been sneezing for Greece and only today we decided why. Spring is busting out all over. The orchard is full of trees sprouting buds and blossoms, the air has finally begun to warm up in preparation for the summer and the skies are bluer than blue. The bees are once again buzzing around our makeshift bird bath and we've seen the first swallows a swooping and a swirling above. it's 24ºC outside, yippee.

The forecasts are not showing any appreciable risk of rain for quite a while, which is a pity because a shower or two overnight would be ideal now. The log burner has burned its last log until some time next December and we're already weeding like crazy out in the garden.

Over in the orchard there are blossoms either fully out or bursting to do so on orange, lemon, apricot, plum and almond trees. The pomegranate is coming into leaf and so is the fig. It's all looking decidedly promising.

If we don't see some decent fruit on some of those trees this year I'll eat my hat. Shouldn't be too difficult, it's made of straw. I won't get caught like that again. Even dental floss wasn't enough to get all that cotton out from between my teeth the last time.

Tell you one thing, I'm not going near any of those trees with a watering can while the flowers are blooming. Not after the ear-bashing I got from Mihalis the agrotis the last time (check out this post).

Of course, there is another aspect to this time of the year that's not quite so welcome. The wildlife begins to stir. OK, so some of it's cuddly and cute, like the lizards that are already starting to bask on warm rocks and stones in the sunlight, the toads that come out at night and the tree frogs. The blackbirds are singing in the early evening and last Sunday, while we were driving along a dirt track to visit some friends, we had to stop and wait for a Hoopoe to finish a dust bath.

No, the problem with the wildlife (the livestock if you like - see chapter 2 of "Tzatziki For You to Say"), is the eight-legged variety. Those big stripey ones that can run like the clappers are once more out and about and presumably searching for a mate. Twice this week we've opened our shutters to have one drop on to the sill within inches of us, or even worse, into the runners that the windows slide along, and frighten the living daylights out of us. They just love lurking in the shutters, between the shutter and the mozzie net, while they're closed. Wind the shutter up in the morning and - plop! Instant heart failure. 

They also like to spin their silky white, pod-like webs in the channels of the mozzie net frames, which means that to be safe you have to take them out now and again and run a big screwdriver along the channel.

If one gets into the window runners it's a real problem getting at them because you have to try and get a kitchen utensil that will be narrow enough to probe the channel and then flick the fiend out, while the beast is trying to make itself as small as it can (and failing miserably) at one end or the other. If you flick it wrongly it could well fly inwards, into the house instead of outwards, thus enabling one to slide the window shut with as much despatch as one can without shattering the glass in the process. If it does come inward though, it'll just as likely gather its senses and run like the wind into the gap under your sofa and thus necessitate a major reorganisation of the furniture in the process of making the house safe again.

Roll on our first resident gecko of the year. Nowadays we usually end up with at least one sweet little semi-translucent gecko living under the dining table and we're fine with that. Geckos are like nature's nocturnal vacuum cleaners for creepy crawlies. If you have a resident gecko you can often forget worrying about spiders giving you the jitters indoors after dark. They will patrol the walls and floors all night long for their occasional reward of a juicy insect or arachnid. Just be careful when going to the loo at three o'clock in the morning though. Stepping on Gordon the gecko can ruin his night.

Anyway, must be off. The better half needs a tissue (or atishoo, neat eh?) ...

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Weather Reports, Rubbish Bins and Buses.

Well, today the sunshine finally returned after over a week of changeable and mainly wet weather. It's not only us, but Greek friends here too, who think that we've just experienced the longest sustained spell of rainy weather for over a decade. Normally the rain comes in three-day cycles during a Rhodean winter, but since last Tuesday the 7th, when it clouded over mercifully after the Help For Health Gennadi event (organised by Dimitri Koronios, owner of the delightful and homely Summer Breeze Hotel in the village) had gone off successfully, as had the parade, it's rained every day and at times heavily.

The rain is very welcome and any locals who have vegetables or trees to care for are hopping up and down with glee but, if I'm honest, I was pretty glad to finally wake up to bright sunshine this morning and it's been a pleasure to mooch around in the garden for several hours before lunch. I took the above photo of the gate into the orchard about an hour ago, to show that lovely carpet of yellow flowers that we always get at this time of year. They're a weed I suppose, but what an attractive one, eh? Here's a close-up...

I love these little beauties because, as I've written before (some years back now though) our friends' children love to pull a flower stalk and suck on it because it tastes of lemon. 

Weather-wise it's been an interesting winter. Following two extraordinarily dry ones this one's helped to redress the balance somewhat. In fact the local Rhodean newspaper reported just yesterday that we've had the same amount of rain on the island this past week as we normally get for the whole month of March. 

Daytime temperatures throughout this winter haven't been much different from the average, but we did have a month and more of very cold nights. Just about every Greek we know has said that they can't remember a winter when the nights were so cold for so many nights in succession. Now though, it's pretty much as one would expect for this time of the year. It's that little 'window' each year when inhabitants of the UK get all excited about having temperatures on a par with us from time to time.

The bright, fresh weather has prompted her indoors to get all frisky both with washing and her wardrobe. The bed earlier today was stripped and sheets ripped off and rammed into the washing machine. Jackets, skirts, dresses and stuff were thrown from the wardrobe on to the bed to the point at which one could hardly see the bed for the clothes. She has a good 'sort-out' now and then and that's quite right too. The only problem we have here is that when you end up with a few carrier bags full of stuff you want to dispose of there are no thrift or second-hand charity shops to which you can take them.

There is, however, an unwritten law about sharing second hand clothes, even some household items. You don't expect to get anything for them, but then that would be the case if you donated them to a UK charity shop too, right? But what one does here (and I suspect all over Greece) is to take the clothes that are too good to be thrown out and pack them in a decent plastic bag or two. Then you go the the nearest roadside rubbish bin (has to be a four-wheeler of course, the public ones) and either deposit the bags on the ground next to the bin or hang them on one of the shafts that protrude out from either side of it - those thingies that the rubbish trucks use to hinge the bins with when they're lifted and emptied into the back of the truck.

You can bet your very last dollar that some Albanians or Bulgarians will be along in a trice and they'll whip those bags away in no time. In fact, ever the thrifty wife, my better half has been known to have a rummage herself and has on occasion found some pretty good stuff, books included. I too rescued about ten undamaged beer glasses just a few weeks ago after probably a local bar owner had decided to put them by the bin. Not all that long ago an Albanian friend of ours turned up to a social gathering we also attended wearing a woollen jumper that my wife had left by a bin in the manner described above. To be honest, we were delighted to see our friend wearing it and she looked very good in it too. The system works well.

Why, though, do you not find second hand stores here in Greece like you do in the UK? It has to do with the culture. It doesn't matter how poor you may be, if you're Greek you don't buy second hand, not even if it's for charity. The sense of family pride in Greek communities is acute. No one likes to be seen to be in any way worse off than their neighbours. It's something that runs very deep and goes back centuries. It applies to other areas of life, not just clothes. I've probably mentioned before about how many Greek islands, owing to their small gene pool, have a higher than average incidence of children born with defects, be they mental or physical. Many families simply cannot cope with having a disabled member, it's almost seen as evidence of failure on the part of the husband or wife to produce a sound baby, at worst even the result of someone having placed the 'hex' on them. Thus in darker times past such poor unfortunates were shipped off to Leros, the island where they have a hospital for primarily mentally disadvantaged people. It is changing slowly, attitudes are gradually modernising, but the more rural you get the more the old ways still prevail.

The same principle also applies to use of public transport. I'd never really given this a lot of thought until last week, when I was talking to Tony and Sue, a couple who've recently arrived here to start a new life. Just goes to show, however much you think you may know, you can always learn something. Nowadays there are younger folk who need to get from the villages to Rhodes town for college or perhaps work and these will more often than not be seen boarding a bus. Older folk though, as Tony pointed out to me, they still find it very hard to bring themselves to get on a bus. If any neighbours see them, once again it's like an admission of poverty. 'Oh dear, can't poor Kyria Whatshername afford a car?' That's how they reason and it may sound far-fetched, but it's true.

Still the majority of passengers on the public buses during winter time are Albanians, Bulgarians or other immigrants. In fact, our own experience bears this out. I've written about a few experiences that we've had picking up hitchhikers in my "Ramblings From Rhodes" books. Hitchhikers here on Rhodes don't look at all like the mental picture one would normally conjure up. They're usually old ya yas getting from one place to another and they don't stick out a thumb, oh no. They'll step out in front of you and wave an arm as if to say: "Oi! Stop!! You can fit me in..."

As I mentioned in the books, we've even ended up going on wild goose chases like the time when an old woman we'd picked up made full use of our kindness by asking us to take a detour or three while she did a few errands, even whipping out a pair of secateurs at one of her 'stops', availing herself of a few choice roses from a hotel's garden, then having us take her to the cemetery where she wanted to place them on a grave!

Anyway, to return to the glorious sunshine outside today, here are a couple more shots taken out in the garden...

Here you can see my lamentable veggie patch with pathetic excuses for lettuce and onions.

That's where I sat to take the previous shot. I made the bench. Good eh? All right, there's no need for that.

We think that these are osteospermum, but we aren't sure. They provide a lovely display in spring time. The bare truncated woody plant behind is a dwarf bougainvillea, which we always cut back hard in February. It never fails to recover with huge vivid magenta blooms in summer.

While weeding the gravel pathways, I grabbed this plant around the stem to pull it out when, just in time, I realised that it's an orchid!! Needless to say, it's still there.
It's not often one can call a post 'Weather Reports, Rubbish Bins and Buses' is it? Be fair. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Pitter Patter

Here you go folks, for all you back in the UK, this was half an hour ago...


If it doesn't play, try this link.

And this too...


If it doesn't play, try this link.

Friday, 10 March 2017

People and ...peel?

In a couple more weeks Massari village will be holding their annual orange festival. 
It's always a good spectacle.

It didn't take long for us to begin making friends and acquaintances once we'd begun our regular lives out here. Among the folk we've become quite close to are some who've been mentioned in the “Ramblings From Rhodes” books.
There's Mihalis, the smallholder with a house surrounded by a garden chock full of fruit trees and vegetables. His menagerie includes chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and the odd dog or two. The latter of course are continually chained up near their kennels. I'll give him that, he does provide his dogs with kennels. Never seen him take either of them for walks though. At least they're well fed and watered.
Mihalis it was who used to leave plastic bags hanging from the car wing mirror with no fanfare. We'd arrive back at the car and find a load of lettuce seedlings in the bottom, or perhaps at other times of the year a few ripe, plump, shiny aubergines or courgettes. During the summer season we see him once or twice a week and he always has a tray of eggs for us. We'd never dream of refusing anything because it may send him the wrong signal that perhaps we don't want his gifts. We'll simply pass them on to other friends or our immediate neighbours if we have a too much of a surplus.
He's always ready with some advice about what particular day we need to be putting the beans in or what kind of kopria (compost) we need to put on which plants. He tells me when to thin out the beetroot and how to select which French bean plants to pull out and which ones to leave in to continue growing. He's generous with his produce and his counsel, yet incapable of commending me for whatever I do, even though I try hard to follow his advice.
We planted a new young orange tree a couple of years back. It's the navel variety that lots of people here favour, because it's a wonderful eater with the perfect balance between sweet and bitter taste and doesn't produce many pips. I planted it when Mihalis told me to and bought a very expensive liquid fertiliser on his recommendation. A one litre tin cost around €20, but you do dilute it quite a lot with water. I applied it as per his instructions and so, when he dropped by one day, I led him to the tree and showed it to him.
“Oh, I wouldn't have put it there.” 
He said, then proceeded to point out everything that I'd apparently done wrong regarding location, light, soil and my dubious prospects of actually seeing a harvest of oranges any time soon. Some time later, in the spring, the young tree was absolutely covered in sweet-smelling white blossoms with delicate little yellow patches in the centre of each flower. I excitedly took a photo and showed it to him. I don't know why, I ought to have known him well enough, but I kind of expected him to say, 'Wow. How lovely. You'll be eating juicy oranges later in the year to be sure.'
Instead he took one look at the photo and said, 
That tree is sick, Gianni.” 
...and proceeded to offer more advice about how I might be able to save it from dying if I acted with enough despatch. I hadn't really noticed that the foliage had begun turning yellow. I thought that with all those blossoms on it, then it had to be happy and that we were indeed going to see a bumper harvest.
It seems that we'd done a very wrong thing. It was spring time and the rains were infrequent. We were watering the tree regularly as it was still only four feet high and we thought that it would need it, especially before the hot dry summer months came upon us.
“Oh, no, no. You should never water an orange tree when it's in blossom, Gianni.” 
He told me. Dammit but it wasn't something we'd specifically covered during all our conversations up until then. He said that we only had to watch and all those lovely blossoms would drop off. Most of the leaves too.
They only went and did just that, didn't they. More recently we've talked with a few others about watering orange trees when they're in blossom and, sure enough, they all say the same. I don't pretend to understand it, but it must be right. At least the tree is still alive and this spring I'm flaming well not going near it with a hose pipe or watering can if it produces any flowers.
Some years back we used to quite often give a diminutive Bulgarian woman called Dopi a lift into town and back. In appreciation for our kindness she'd supply us with plastic bags full to bursting with wonderfully juicy oranges all through the winter months. This was due to the fact that she was a live-in carer, looking after an old ya ya for a Greek family who had a business in Lindos and thus didn't have time to care for their old mum, who was slowly losing her marbles. The small cottage in which the two women lived was surrounded by a dozen orange trees, the fruit from which the woman's family would never bother to harvest. Thus, each time Dopi got into our car she'd emerge from the garden gate, vigorously 'shhhh-ing” me in a furtive manner and dashing up and down the path with three or four bags of oranges, which she'd bid me stow in the boot pretty sharpish. It was all a bit clandestine because the woman's children, all grown up and running their business, although they never bothered wth the oranges themselves, used to threaten her if she picked the fruit. It would sorely distress Dopi, well, us too, to see all these wonderful oranges being left to rot. So Dopi would go out and rattle the branches until the fruit dropped, then she'd gather up the fallers (seconds after they'd done so) and bag them up for us.
She'd get into the car saying, “Whenever they ask me, 'Have you been picking those oranges?' I can truthfully reply, 'no, I only gather up the fallers', tee hee.”
Sadly, a few years ago our tiny, bow-legged, sixty-something Bulgarian friend with the shock of frizzy white hair returned to her native Bulgaria and we found our primary source of ripe oranges cut off. What on earth were we to do? To actually pay for our supply of winter oranges would be a painful experience.
Well, would you believe it but we became acquainted with a new family of Greeks from a village just up the road, and they have about fifty orange trees just outside the village of Massari. For the past six weeks or so, every time we see them, which is at least once a week, they're carrying plastic bags full-to-bursting with delicious navel oranges and those bags are destined for our car's boot.
So, here we are once again eating our morning muesli topped with chopped chunks of juicy, sweet oranges straight from the tree. Our fridge is stacked with small plastic water bottles whose use has now been turned over to holding freshly-squeezed orange juice and we're frequently hanging bags of oranges on our neighbours' and friends' fences and gates to share the bounty with them too. There's an identical ongoing situation with lemons as well.
It's the same in June with apricots, in the high summer months with water melons. In May you can't move for cherries and in September watch out for those peaches, because it's easy to eat so many that you might just be well advised to carry some loo roll with you if you attempt a country walk.

 In the UK you can waltz along the supermarket aisle and load up your trolley with whatever fruit you want, you pay no mind to what season the fruit's supposed to be grown in. It's shipped half-way around the planet to make sure that the supermarket shopper can have his or her choice of whatever fruit or veg he or she wants - any time of the year. Here one gets into the habit of buying local. It's not only a great deal cheaper, but it's far better for the environment and the fruit and veg tastes infinitely better for having been grown just along the road. The only slight drawback is, by the time you get to March/April, you feel like you never want to see an orange or a lemon again. You feel like you've almost turned into one or the other. 
It's OK though, because come November, you'll be eager to taste the first ripe oranges of the new season all over again.
Mind you, one more "orangy" experience is always worthwhile, the Massari Orange festival.
More ramblings about the Massari Orange Festival can be found in this earlier post from March 2015, including lots more photos.

[The bulk of this post is another extract from the forthcoming book